Northern Ireland news

Michael Gove pays tribute to ‘outstanding' Arlene Foster

First Minister and outgoing DUP leader Arlene Foster. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove paid tribute to outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster during a visit to Northern Ireland as part of the UK Covid Recovery Programme.

Mr Gove visited the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service near Belfast where he met workers who had been on the front line during the Covid pandemic.

He spoke with members of five ambulance crew and staff from the dispatch unit and was also shown around the interior of an emergency ambulance.

Explaining his visit, Mr Gove said: “I am here as part of the UK-wide Covid Recovery Programme. Last week, the first ministers and the prime minister talked about the vital importance of putting Covid recovery first.

“We wanted to ensure that across the United Kingdom we learn from one another, not just in terms of making sure that we build back better economically but also that we can clear backlogs in the NHS, help children to catch up with lost learning and also make sure that jobs and prosperity are protected as we recover from this once-in-a-lifetime health crisis.”

Mr Gove also took the opportunity to comment on political uncertainty at Stormont with the DUP set to nominate Paul Givan as the new first minister on Monday.

He said: “I would like to say how grateful I am to Arlene Foster for her service. I think Arlene is an outstanding person who has been a great First Minister and I have really enjoyed working with her through the course of her time. I have also enjoyed working with Michelle O’Neill and Sinn Fein ministers.

“I am sure that it will be the case that in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, as we recover from Covid, that representatives from all parties will recognise that it is important that we have an inclusive Executive that puts public sector recovery first.

“So I am confident that even as we say thank you to Arlene and we have a new first minister in place, that people will carry on good work in the interests of all.”

When asked about how Mrs Foster had been ousted from her own party, Mr Gove said: “Well, all parties have their democratic processes and I’m from a different party.

“I would just say two things – I am a huge fan of Arlene’s, I think she still has so much to contribute to the life of the United Kingdom, but I also wish Edwin Poots well, I wish Paul Givan well.

“I have worked with Edwin both during my time as Environment Minister and in this role and I know that he is someone who will always put the people of Northern Ireland first.”

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